Perception Versus Reality: Bridging the Gap

Our perceptions influence the way we think and make decisions, but they can become problematic if they don’t align with reality.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

Our perceptions dictate our actions. What we perceive will cause us to act, react or do nothing. Unfortunately, perceptions are not always based on reality, which should be what dictates our actions. So, how is this related to CNC, or manufacturing in general? Let me elaborate.

Problems with Perceptions
Perceptions can make us ignore the need to change, to become complacent. For example, the reality might be that your company is using an outdated cutting tool for an important, or time-consuming operation. However, if people in your company perceive the cutting tool to be state-of-the-art, they will not even consider the possibility of improvement. As human beings, we tend to shun change of any kind. So it is especially easy for our perceptions to trick us into becoming set in our ways. 

Perceptions can provide an incorrect assessment of a situation. The reality might be that machines are down between production runs more than 60 percent of the time, but due to the way your company accounts for time, setup time is charted as only 25 percent of available production time. This leads to the perception that machines are down during setup for an acceptable amount of time and that no action needs to be taken.

Incorrect perceptions can also cause us to make unwise or unnecessary changes. The reality might be that cutting tools are machining properly and lasting for an acceptable length of time. The operator is able to keep up with the machine, but there is no extra time during the CNC cycle for anything else. A manager’s perception might be that cutting conditions are not aggressive enough, and that more aggressive cutting conditions will result in higher output. If the manager acts on this perception by increasing cutting conditions, the operator will no longer be able to keep up with the machine.

In a nutshell, perceptions can lead to costly mistakes, either through action or inaction. The greater the gap between perceptions and reality, the higher the cost of the related mistake. The sad fact of the matter is that we don’t even recognize that we’re making a mistake. We go merrily on our way thinking all is well with the world, unless something happens that slaps us back to reality.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to change perceptions since we’re dealing with beliefs. When you believe something to be true, emotions get involved and realities often take a back seat. The longer you have a perception, the more
difficult it can be to change it, regardless of how much proof to the contrary is staring you in
the face.

For instance, consider anyone who has been left on his or her own to solve a complex problem. There is a pride of authorship that comes with solving such a problem. Often we perceive our solution to be the best—or even the only—way to solve the problem, and turn a deaf ear to anyone trying to make suggestions to the contrary.

Bridging the Gap
Here are some ways we can work to improve our perceptions and bring them closer to reality:

• Question your perceptions. Aggressive awareness might be the only real weapon against perceptions that make us complacent. Take a lesson from continuous improvement, which begins with the premise that no task within your company is being performed as well as it could be. There is always room for improvement. This will cause you to question tasks you may be taking for granted.

• Do a reality check. This works especially well for perceptions we’ve formed based upon information we get from others. Pick random facts that you’ve been given and test them. If, for example, you’re told that setup time (the time a machine is down between production runs) is only 25 percent of production time, walk the shop floor a few times and see how many machines are down. If the number is consistently more than half the machines, it is likely that something is wrong with the information you have been provided.

• Get more input. Often the reason why there is a gap between reality and perceptions is related to the amount and quality of available information when decisions are made. Avoid making important decisions on your own. Always research difficult problems, enlisting help from others who are in a position to provide quality information.